Monday, June 19, 2006

This little sheep went to market...

Having attended university in Montreal, I've encountered some absolutely horrendous potholes. Montreal brought new meaning to the joke that Canada has only 2 seasons: winter and construction. Although, try as they might - with endless work being done to improve the roads - the potholes persist! For those of you who have had the pleasure of driving in Montreal, I'm sure you understand what I mean.

And yet, the roads are paved. End of story. The Montreal potholes cannot even begin to compare to the road conditions I've seen here. Particularly when travelling outside the city, where I'm sure you can understand, the roads are most definately not paved. Imagine a compacted dirt road, just big enough for 2 tro-tros to squeeze by one another (I can vouch, having seen it happen. However, one did have to slightly drop into the ditch on the side...). But anyway, we are imagining this dirt road: in the north the earth is a rich reddy-brown, but although compacted, the road is still susceptible to physical erosion. Seeing as the rainy season has begun, torrents of rain cut through the soft earth, leaving crevices and small craters that are devestating to a small vehicle passing through. Even without the rain, the sporatic flow of traffic raises the dust and causes it to settle in almost perfectly spaced ridges along the centre of the road. So now picture the red-dirt road, dropping off to shallow ditches on either side - with ridges along the centre and potholes dotting the edges.

And then, unless you happen to own a motorbike, the only real way to get around (I'm speaking about distances that are generally too long to bike on a daily basis) is the tro-tro, or lorry as it's called here as well. I have possibily alluded to tro-tro rides in a previous blog, but for the purpose of this story (yes, it is a story!), I will reiterate the experience. Tro-tros are about the size of small vans (but with more windows...usually). In the back, there are normally 4-6 rows of seats, and on each row up to 6 or so people can be squashed in. The busiest tro-tro I've been on, carried a grand total of 40 or so people. This number is extremely surprising considering the state that the vehicles are in. Having gone through many a winter in Canada, I've witnessed the deterioration and inevitable rust that awaits any vehicle where snow and salt are concerned. However, not a single one of the tro-tros I've seen would be permitted to operate in Canada. The seats on the interior are of a rusted, metal framework - complete with jagged edges and squeaky hinges. The exterior is no better - the same rusty, jagged edges lining the windows and door openings, and many a time with a U-shaped metal rod used to secure the door in place when closed.

So, now combine the above images of these dilapidated vehicles upon weathered dirt roads. Granted the entire vehicle shakes quite violently (particularly over those central ridges), and despite the heat of so many people packed in close quarters with little ventiliation, the passengers are kept in their respective seats due to the sardine-like arrangement. Even so, every metal part rattles in unison, creating an almost deafening din - not unlike what I imagine it would sound like to be in one of those food processors I've seen around. At times it is entirely impossible to converse with the person beside you!

This is my transportation to and from Tamale. Although it sounds like a terrible experience, I've met some of the most interesting people on tro-tros, and have come to appreciate their undeniable rustic charm (and since your entire body bounces along uniformly it is possible, even if not necessarily easy, to read a book en route). But I'm diverging. This story is about one of my first tro-tro rides in Ghana. I was on my way into Tamale for a wedding, and since it was a market day, the tro-tro was packed. And I mean packed - with both people and cargo; the roof of the vehicle was heaped with wares to be sold in town.

We had been driving for maybe five minutes, rattling along until we hit one particularly nasty pothole. Duly, the driver adeptly swerved around it. It was at this point that I saw a streak of white sailing past the window to my right, followed by the loud *thud* of a sheep hitting the ground! One of the men had tied the legs of his sheep, and I'm assuming it was on the way to the market to be sold. Naturally, we stopped to retreive the now slightly bruised goods before continuing. Since the sheep appeared to have undergone no further damage than a simple bump on the head (I'm surprised it was still alive, to tell you the truth), the entire tro-tro burst into peals of laughter! An eventful ride already...

But alas, this same sheep was to be yet again the centre of our next disturbance! Perhaps ten minutes after making its remarkable escape attempt in hurtling itself off the moving tro-tro, the sheep was once again brought to our attention (granted, the failed escape attempt is my own personal speculation and it's entirely possible that the sheep simply fell). While everyone had a good laugh at this next occurance, it was the man directly to my right who was the most affected. You see, there was suddenly a curious liquid dripping down from the battered roof, that was sagging under the weight of its load. As it turned out, the unfortunate sheep had chosen to relieve itself on the tro-tro roof, and its urine was subsequently leaking into the tro-tro and onto the aforementioned man. Needless to say, the entire mess was cleaned up, seats were shifted slightly, and the sheep went on unnoticed for the remainder of the journey.


At 3:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Debs
Your description of the drive to the wedding with the sheep's probable escape attempt followed by his having to relieve himself onto the hapless inhabitants of the bus is quite hysterical. Am thoroughly enjoying reading your blog. Love Heather

At 12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


i find the comparison of a third world coutry to montreal absurd. Tro tros, vans, lorries or whatever you call them are not the core essence of a culture. tell us about the people. are they industrious? are they poverty stricken? how can the developed world help etc? cheers


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